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The Humanities Conference 2003

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From Glomart to Gaia: A New Cultural Paradigm for a Finite World

Thomas I. Ellis.

"Glomart," short for "Global Market," is a word I have coined to characterize the current domination of our planet by global corporations, and the culture of consumerism they propagate through mass media to sustain their growth. This culture is based on a logic of maximization embedded in the money system: more is always better. The problem is that this infinite-world logic of maximization, applied to a finite world, is a clear recipe for global catastrophe--it has already engendered a runaway corporate feeding frenzy on all that remains of our finite fossil fuels, fresh water, topsoil, fisheries, mineral resources, and forests, coupled with an unquestioned mandate to "globalize" all remaining indigenous, self-sustaining cultures.

This essay treats Glomart as a toxic and illusory virtual reality born of epistemological errors embedded in the unique history of Western Europe and the United States. It counterposes it with an emergent, more accurate model of reality, "Gaia"--the recognition that life on Earth is a finite, perishable "inescapable network of mutuality" (in Martin Luther King's words) where "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." The premises of Gaian consciousness are defined in symmetrical antithesis to Glomart. Whereas in Glomart, more is always better, Gaia functions on a logic of optimization: enough is enough. Similarly, whereas Glomart confers identity through possession (you are what you own), in the real world (Gaia) identity is conferred through agency: you are what you do. And finally, whereas in Glomart the profit margin is the ultimate arbiter of every decision (the bottom line is the bottom line), in Gaian consciousness, value is perceived systemically, and the nurturance of life itself, in its diversity and complexity, is always "the bottom line." Finally, the concept of "Gaia," as a nodal idea giving rise to a more adaptive global culture, is defined and elaborated as a myth, a model, a metaphor, and a movement.


Thomas I. Ellis  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Hampton University

Born and raised near Philadelphia, PA (USA), I matriculated at Ohio Wesleyan University (BA 1971) and the University of Oregon (MA 1977; Ph.D. 1984). I have taught overseas in Greece and China, as well as at Linfield College in Oregon, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University. Since 1992 I have been Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at Hampton University in Virginia. I have also taught summer courses in Bath, England. My principal area of scholarly interest is in English Renaissance and Baroque literature, but I have also given papers on contemporary film and popular culture, and on computers in composition. I have a strong outside interest in the theory and praxis of environmental public education and activism.

  • Gaia Theory
  • Consumerism
  • Sustainability
  • Global Market Economy
  • Globalization
  • Environmental Crisis
  • Environmental Awareness
  • Economics
  • Epistemology
  • Western Civilization
Person as Subject
  • Lovelock, James; Wilber, Ken; Bateson, Gregory

(30 min Conference Paper, English)